Tuesday, February 15, 2022

California: San Francisco School Board Recall Day -- Key facts and figures about School Board recalls (Updated)

Today is the first big recall election of the year, as San Francisco Board President Gabriela Lopez, former Vice President Alison Collins and member Faauuga Moliga are facing the voters. Let’s dive into some key facts (apologizes for the font):

1.     School board recall efforts have been taking off over the last two years, primarily due to the efforts to combat the spread of the COVID pandemic – last year saw at least 250 recall attempts against school board members, more than triple a normal year but…

2.     They almost all failed. In a reversal of historic norms (where recall that get to the ballot usually result in removal) Only 18 got to the ballot (and 8 resigned and 1 died). Of those 16 members survived the vote. The two that were ousted had nothing to do with COVID issues.

3.     There have been 7 school board recalls already in 2022. All of the officials survived (in Oregon, Nebraska and Massachusetts).

4.     School board recalls are a regular feature of American politics: Since 2011, there have been 145 127 school board recalls in the US, with 95 93 being removed. Another 51 43 others resigned and 1 was kicked out by the board and another died. (I did not include 2021 in the earlier list -- I am not including the 7 in 2022 yet). 

5.     In California, since 2011, 31 school board recalls got to the ballot, plus another 9 officials resigned and one was removed by the board before a vote (this took place in 24 jurisdictions). The results of those 31 elections show a stark problem for the members – 25 of the officials lost their seats. Only 6 survived. 4 of those six were in a single race (in Parlier in 2011).

6.     The last school board recall in California was in 2020 against two members of the El Rancho Unified School Board (they were both overwhelmingly removed).

7.     This may be the largest school district to ever face a recall vote. In 2015, three school board members in JeffersonCounty, Colorado lost their seats in a recall vote.

8.     Arguably the most consequential recall election in US history was against a school board. In the recall’s finest hour, in 1959, Little Rock, Arkansas voters ended the Lost Year, ousting three School Board members and helping end the famed desegregation crisis.

9.     There has been a divide in the recall defense, with Moliga trying to create separation with Lopez and Collins. Can this work? Usually, it doesn’t, as the clean sweep is popular arrangement in recall battles. But not always.

10. Turnout appears to be low, which is sometimes a feature of recalls, though not in high-profile ones. Is turnout decisive? Well, here's a dive into numbers during the gubernatorial race. 

11. This is the first recall in San Francisco since 1983, when then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein easily beat back a recall and shows how recalls can be a boon to your career. But it won’t be the last! Tune back in this June, when San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin will face the voters.

As for the details of this recall: Petitioners handed in over 81.200 signatures and they needed 51,285 to get on the ballot. 

The School Board recall is over a few issues, including a fight over planning (or accusation of failure to do plan) for the reopening of the schools, changing admissions for a high school and an extremely controversial decision to change the names of public schools for political reasons and using some odd history, including removing the name of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Dianne Feinstein. Collins filed a $87 million lawsuit against the board for removing her from the VP position.

Mayor London Breed has been particularly critical of the board. If the officials are removed, Breed will appoint the replacement (there is no replacement race). 

Other board members Jenny Lam, Mark Sanchez and Kevine Boggess and Matt Alexander, will not be able to face a recall until June.

One notable feature of this recall is that non-citizens can vote in the race.

Fundraising has been overwhelmingly on the side of removal, with charter school supporters and others pouring in cash for the effort, with nearly $2M sent in to the pro-recall side, and only about $86,000 raised for the recall defense effort.

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